Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Going Nowhere Slowly - and paying for it

"Does anyone care?" might be a more appropriate question than the one posed by the Pro-China Morning Post.  The Hong Kong people never asked to have their hard-earned money spent on this ruinously expensive project, and are hardly likely to be bothered by the prospect of it being delayed by a couple of years.  Like our other great white elephant infrastructure projects - the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and the proposed third airport runway - the rail link reflects the hubris of the local and mainland governments rather than the real needs of Hong Kong.

What we should be worried about is the high probability that the delay will lead to yet more of our money being demanded to build this line from nowhere to nowhere - poorly connected at both ends.  And what we should perhaps be investigating is why the delay appears to have come as a sudden surprise to our government - adding Secretary for Transport and Housing Anthony Cheung to the long list of government ministers who should be kicked out, which already includes those responsible for Justice, Finance, Constitutional Affairs, Development, Education, and Commerce and Economic Development.  (Come to think of it, Hong Kong's housing situation probably justified his removal much earlier, but that's by the by.)

No big project suddenly slips its timetable by two years - there is always a series of small delays acting as warning signs which gradually accumulate.  If the government did not spot these signs, then it was not monitoring the project adequately.  Expect the usual response - a round of hand-wringing, at the end of which nobody will be held responsible.
While we're on the subject of railways, whatever happened to the second steam locomotive of the pair brought back to Hong Kong from the Philippines some years ago?  One of the pair, which were once used on a long-defunct narrow-gauge line from Fanling to Shataukok, quite properly sits in the Hong Kong Railway Museum in Taipo (see picture above, from Wikipedia).  The other appeared to have vanished - rusting away, rumour had it, in the MTR depot at Fo Tan.  Since the government acquired it with public money, shouldn't it be on display somewhere where the Hong Kong public can enjoy it?

Well, apparently our lords and masters decided otherwise; according to the fascinating Industrial History of Hong Kong website, which has a picture of the line in operation (above), it was intended to restore the second loco to working order, but "after languishing at Fo Tan for several years it was donated to a narrow gauge railway in Wales catering for tourists" - apparently the Vale of Rheidol Railway, since a photo shows it at Aberystwyth (in terrible condition, one might add - see below). Did the Hong Kong government ever ask the Hong Kong public whether they wanted to keep it?  Just another example of our money being splashed around without consultation.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Predictable Nonsense

A member of the electoral reform panel of the DAB has admitted that Beijing “requires a high level of predictability over the [next Chief Executive] election".  Apparently he fails to see the blatant contradiction between this and his party's claim to stand for "Democratic" Action for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.  One can have democracy or predictability, but not both.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Signs of Confusion

Why a Well Women Clinic?  Wouldn't it be more useful to have a clinic for sick women?  Taipo.
"Overpayments Accepted" sounds so much nicer than "We rip you off by not giving change", don't you agree?  Market Square, Helmsley, Yorkshire, UK.
Hope no one misreads this as "Letter" and tries to pop their mail in there!  It does look like a mail box.  Somewhere I can't remember in the UK.
DAB - hhmmm...  Wonder if the Hong Kong government is trying a little subliminal advertising here?
You have to admire any hotel that displays Basil Fawlty at its front door!  Damn fine beer, too.  The Buckingham Hotel in Buxton, Derbyshire Peak District, UK.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Do you feel safe? Well, do you?

The mysterious disappearance of a Malaysian Airlines plane, possibly a victim of a terrorist attack, has brought renewed attention to the issue of airport security.  Malaysian Airlines, it emerges, not only allowed several passe4ngers with false or stolen passports to board the ill-fated flight, but has a previous conviction for knowingly falsifying passport records to allow a banned passenger to board a flight.

If this worries you, then consider my recent experience.  A year or two ago, airlines everywhere were panicking at the prospect of liquid explosives potentially being brought on to a flight, leading to a general worldwide ban on liquids in all but tiny quantities being carried in cabin baggage.  On Friday last week - the day before the Malaysian jet vanished - I flew back to Hong Kong from a business visit to Manila.  At the airport, every passenger not only had their cabin baggage X-rayed, but was even asked to remove their shoes for X-ray examination.  Strict security, you might think - but one of the colleagues I travelled with inadvertently left a bottle of drinking water in his backpack, which eluded discovery and went on to the plane with us.

So, is total flight security possible?  I doubt it - even if passengers' carry-on bags are checked, it would only take one criminal baggage handler to smuggle a bomb on board.  You either accept terrorism as a risk of flying, or stay at home.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

So What?

The South China Morning Post has another of its patented "no useful information" online polls today.
So do the 73% think that Albert Ho should have had his knuckles rapped more firmly for being a naughty boy, or do they think that browsing soft porn is a perfectly intelligent response to the tedium of having to listen to John Tsang wrongly predicting a budget deficit for the 5th (or is it 6th) consecutive year?  I fear we shall never know.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Facing Basic Realities

An article by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam in the South China Morning Post urges Hongkongers to "accept basic realities" to achieve universal suffrage in 2017.  Yet Ms Lam appears curiously reluctant to accept some basic realities herself:
  1. Basic Reality 1 - to any reasonable person, the purpose of universal suffrage is not merely to give each citizen an equal vote, but to do so in order to enable them to make a free choice between a selection of candidates representing a broad variety of political viewpoints.  To have a vote but only be able to choose between 2 or 3 identikit candidates with essentially the same views and policies falls well short of the "democratic process" Ms Lam claims to espouse.
  2. Basic Reality 2 - most people don't need to have the meaning of "screening" spelled out.  Ms Lam says 'There are also views suggesting there should be no "screening", but without clearly defining or explaining what "screening" means'.  Well, most of us understand that it simply means rejecting any candidate who does not fit into the category commonly but inaccurately called "pro-China" - in short, anyone who is likely to stand up for the interests of Hong Kong where they clash (as they sometimes do) with those of the mainland.
  3. Basic Reality 3 - contrary to Ms Lam's assertion that a nominating committee modelled on the framework of the four-sector Election Committee currently in place would be broadly representative, the majority of Hong Kong people are well aware that the Election Committee's structure is - and indeed was designed to be - totally unrepresentative.  The government's insistence on modelling the nominating committee on the pattern of the Election Committee (in line with the NPC Standing Committee's ruling) therefore directly engenders the public distrust which leads to demands for alternative systems such as civil nomination. Lam is right that these involve "bypassing the committee or undermining its substantive nomination power", but that is essentially because the likely composition of the committee will fail the Basic Law's requirement that it be "broadly representative".  So which side is failing to comply with the Basic Law here?
  4. Basic Reality 4 -  the Basic Law does not spell out that a CE candidate must "love China and love Hong Kong".  The Hong Kong people are not going to be so stupid as to elect someone who does not love Hong Kong, and they are well aware that the elected person will have to be able to work closely with the central government on many issues.  The problem here is that Beijing implicitly defines "loving the country" to mean "loving the Chinese Communist Party"; a definition many - probably most - Hong Kong people do not share.  They simply wish to be offered at least one candidate who will stand up for the autonomy granted to Hong Kong in the Basic Law, and does not define cooperation as subservience.
So where does this leave us?  Probably we can agree with Ms Lam on one thing - that "the outlook for the successful implementation of universal suffrage for the chief executive election is not very bright, though the prospect is not yet completely bleak".  It would become a lot brighter, however, if the government itself faced up to the basic realities and focused its efforts on trying to convince the authorities in Beijing to trust the Hong Kong people, instead of trying to ram a fake version of democracy that ignores these realities down the throats of the Hong Kong electorate.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

We know who you are

This slogan has become omnipresent since the brutal chopping attack on former Ming Pao Chief Editor Kevin Lau a few days ago.  It's interesting that everyone in Hong Kong seems to know who "They" refers to.

There were some unexpected faces on today's anti-violence protest.  Of course the usual suspects were there, but who would have expected a delegation from The Liberal Party?  And perhaps even more surprisingly, at one point I found myself standing next to CY Leung-supporter-turned-foe Lew Mong-hung.  Who would've thunk it?